Labor recognises that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and strongly supports a person’s right to manifest their religion or beliefs. As a principle, we believe that religious belief, just like gender, sexuality and race, is an aspect of a person’s identity that deserves protection in Australian law.
As with the original exposure draft of the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill, Labor was not consulted about the second exposure draft before its release on 10 December 2019.
Despite this, Labor will once again take the time to consult widely throughout the Australian community while we carefully consider the new exposure draft.
As you may be aware, many religious and non-religious individuals and organisations criticised the Government’s original exposure draft. The first exposure draft was very complex and included provisions that operated differently to existing anti-discrimination laws. For example, it was suggested that some provisions of the first exposure draft would have actually eroded existing anti-discrimination protections in both federal and state law – despite assurances from the Attorney-General that the bill would do no such thing.
The erosion of existing anti-discrimination protections is an area of concern for Labor. We do not believe that the extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs should remove protections from discrimination that already exist in the law for other Australians, including protections that currently ensure Australians enjoy equal access to healthcare.
It is important to note that the Government has yet to finalise its proposed religious discrimination laws. The Government has already made substantial changes between its first and second exposure drafts. And, to be clear, the new exposure draft is not a bill before Parliament – any Religious Discrimination Bill which the Government ultimately brings forward may look very different.
Once the Government has introduced legislation into the Parliament, and once Labor has a further opportunity to analyse the proposed new laws and to consult with the Australian community, Labor will determine its position.
One of the great things about being Australian is that we have the freedom to live our lives as we want to live them. We have a diverse society that makes us richer as a nation, in all senses of the word. But fundamentally it is our shared values that unite us and make us strong. Among those values are compassion, fairness and respect for each other.